Summer of Service: During the summer of 2013 the IOP is proud to sponsor and work with over 250 students who are spending their summers in politics and public service around the world. Learn more about this program.
Cindy Dinh, JD/MPP, is a 2013 HKS Campaign Stipend Award Recipient.
Sometimes the best opportunities happen close to home. This summer, I got my first dose of running a local political campaign by volunteering for the Rogene Gee Calvert for Houston City Council, At-Large Position 3.
I returned to my hometown of Houston, Texas to learn the ins-and-outs of target marketing, the candidate fundraising and the endorsement process, and how to decorate a convertible for a parade (I marched in 4 parades in one month!); all while supporting a viable female candidate in an open-seat race.
I chose to work for a candidate who I knew very well. While in high school, I met Ms. Calvert when I participated in the City of Houston Mayor’s Youth Council, which she directed.
Since then, Ms. Calvert has been my mentor, has served with me on the board of a local non-profit, and will hopefully be named the next At-Large 3 Houston City Council Member this November!
My original summer plans were to go abroad, but when she announced she was running for office, I knew it was the perfect time for me to get involved. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to work on a campaign and now I get to promote someone I believe in.
Prior to attending HKS, I worked on the non-partisan side of elections at the County Clerk’s Office. I came to the campaign with a general sense of how elections work and knew about the new changes to Texas' election laws following the Supreme Court decision that struck down Sec. 4 of the Voting Rights Act. However, I felt my most important asset to the campaign was introducing the candidate to my communities: Houston's students and young professionals and the Vietnamese American community in which I volunteer.
1. Of the various fundraisers I helped coordinate, my favorite one was the Young Houstonians for Rogene mixer at a local lounge called Hughes Hangar. Via e-mail, text messages, and the candidate's Facebook and my own personal page, I invited over 1, 000 people to the event. Since I was a Houstonian, my goal was to get her name exposed to all of my local friends and acquaintances.
2. While the Vietnamese American community is the largest Asian ethnic group in Houston, it does not necessarily correspond to strong voter turn-out and political engagement. I aimed to change that. Through my volunteer work within this community, I convened a meeting with religious clerics, directors of non-profit social service organizations, and members of the media to discuss GOTV events for the community. Not only will it drive voters out to the polls this year, but hopefully, it'll be something they do every year. The group will continue to meet after I have left for school.
Although campaign work does not require a specific educational degree, my public policy background helped me hone my communications skills. For example, after taking Arts of Communication with Tim McCarthy, I felt comfortable giving impromptu speeches and introducing the candidate at various events.
When the campaign finance reports were published on July 15, I reviewed all 6 candidates’ reports and composed a memo with patterns, predictions and offered my own viability score within a few hours.
The candidate shared the findings from my memo to her leadership team (campaign kitchen cabinet) and used it to issue a press release for the web.
I concluded the candidate raised $84,000 from the most number of donors. The opposing candidate who raised the most money gave 80% to himself and raised only $8,000 from individual donors. I also blogged about the campaign and updated Twitter and Facebook statuses, using tips I heard from a Shorenstein Center workshop.